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While the nationwide shortage of baby formula has many parents worried, a local expert says there are other brands of formula which can be used instead of those in exceedingly short supply.

The temporary closing of an Abbott Laboratories factory has significantly worsened ongoing supply-chain issues. Abbott is the largest manufacturer of baby formula, including Similac and two other brands.

However, Julie Holland, MD, the head of general pediatrics at NorthShore University HealthSystem, tells Evanston Now that “for most babies, there are sound alternatives which can be used in the short term” if the favorite product is not available.

Holland says she has “not seen widespread panic” in the office, however, parents are definitely concerned.

Holland says Enfamil, made by Mead/Johnson, as well as store brands from places like Wal-Mart should be more readily available. In fact, she adds, Mead/Johnson is ramping up production, which should help until the Abbott factory gets back on line.

Abbott voluntarily closed its Michigan plant in February, after four infants became ill (and two died) from a bacterial infection. While those children had consumed Abbott formula, the company says there is no provable link from its product to the disease, but closed the factory anyway.

The plant should be open and producing formula again in six-to-eight weeks.

The shortage has been worsened for the same reason there were hand sanitizer and toilet paper shortages early in the COVID pandemic …. panic buying.

“Because people are hearing of the shortage,” says Holland, “they’re buying in bulk,” which only makes the shortage more of a problem.

She urges parents to “only buy what’s needed for the next few weeks,” not months.

Some stores are also limiting the amount that customers can purchase at a given time.

A one week’s supply of formula costs about $25-$35.

While many parents can afford that, there are some who cannot. And for lower income families, that can mean a shortage of formula is nothing new.

“It’s a very scary feeling not to be able to provide for your children,” says Alex Goodfellow, executive director of the social service agency Share Our Spare.

Share our Spare provides nutritional supplies, diapers, clothing and other infant/toddler items to area non-profits for distribution.

“Our families feel a need all the time,” Goodfellow says. “This is a normal stresser for the families we serve.”

Share Our Spare receives donated items, which in turn are provided to approximately 100 partner agencies in the region, including some in Evanston.

As of right now, Goodfellow says, her agency “is okay” with its supply of formula.

“But in a month,” she adds, “we don’t know.”

One thing which parents should never do, is to make their own formula, or water down what they have in an effort to make it last longer. Pediatrician Holland says either of those options could be dangerous, or, at minimum, not provide enough nutrition to the baby.

Also, she notes, parents should not obtain breast milk through social media contacts, or even through friends, because that milk is not pasteurized. Organizations called milk banks can be a safe option, as they screen and pasteurize donated breast milk.

Some infants have special needs beyond basic formula. “Those are the children with the most difficulties,” Holland says. And in this time of formula shortage, parents of those infants should definitely contact their pediatricians.

Update: President Biden Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to speed up the manufacturing of baby formula.  He is also taking steps to have Defense Department aircraft fly formula from overseas that meets U.S. health standards

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  1. As a grandmother out there everyday looking to purchase Enfamil with iron gentle ease, there is no product. I also have several retirees looking, in other cities, nothing. Too little too late President Biden.

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